Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Modern Day Witch-Hunts: Azande pt. 2

The first part of this look at the Azande I gave you some background on Evans-Pritchard and his ethnography Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Hopefully that background on author and the Azande people will give you a better of understanding when it comes to how the Azande view witchcraft. This post I will now be focusing on those views of witchcraft and how it falls in this society.

“[All] death is due to witchcraft and must me avenged” (Evans-Pritchard 5). This was the line that I ended the last post with and it pretty much summed up the core of the values of the Azande and witchcraft in their society. What it comes down to is that whenever anything happens in the community whether it is death, sickness a child running away, etc witchcraft is always to be blamed for it (Evan-Pritchard 6).

What is interesting though is that if the “culprit” of the sickness or death is found not only do they have to pay (usually literally with money) but their family also. The reason the family has to pay is because like I mentioned in the last post, the “witchcraft-substance” is considered an inherent part of them, thus the whole family is responsible for it (Evans-Pritchard 7).

Another thing that is unique to the Azande look on witchcraft is this idea that the witch-craft substance grows as you age. With this growing of the psychical substance the “power” that a person has also grows with them. This is why many of the Azande fear the elders in the society and they get blamed for the majority of the problems that are witchcraft related, which among them is everything. With that said, children that have the witchcraft substance aren’t seen as a threat because it is thought to be very small inside of them and practically harmless (Evans-Pritchard 8).

Among the Azande men and women are equally accused of being witches. Like mentioned in the previous post the witchcraft-substance is passed from an ancestor of the same sex and thus a man is just as likely to be a witch as a woman (which of course is much different than a lot of the western ideas of witches). What is interesting though is that among the Azande it is more likely for a man to use witchcraft against a man and a woman against another woman. There are some cases where woman were accused of using witchcraft against a man but never a man against a woman (Evans-Pritchard8).

So we’ve talked about this concept of the “witchcraft-substance” which is inherently biological but there is another part to witchcraft. The actual action of the witches is something that is psychic and is known as mbisimo mangu which is the soul of witchcraft. It then comes down to the idea that the soul of witchcraft can leave the corporeal body of a witch at any given time to carry out the duty of the witch, but especially when they were asleep. This is how the Azande explained how some witches who were accused were sleeping at the time of the attacks/death/etc (Evans-Pritchard 10).

When the witchcraft leaves the body it is said to leave a trail of light behind almost like a fire fly, but the only people that can see this light is other witches or oracles. Sometimes men can see it because sometimes it will light other things like branches and things like because “witchcraft is like fire, it lights a light.” If a man does see this light he has to pick up a piece of charcoal and throw it under his bed otherwise misfortune will fall on him (Evans-Pritchard 11).

It is important to note though that this light is not the witch itself but more of an emanation from the soul. On the flipside the witchcraft soul is said to take part of the victim’s organs or what the Azande call mbisimo pasio. This basically means the “soul of his flesh” which than the witch will devour and share with his/her fellow witches. This whole act is very similar to the notions of vampirism but the difference? Among the Azande this whole process is one that is incorporeal because the soul of witchcraft is eating the soul of the organ or flesh (Evans-Pritchard 12).

So once again it is easy to see that the Azande’s look upon witchcraft (every part of it) as an evil thing. Their ideas are much different that the Europeans had on witchcraft or really any other culture’s feelings towards witchcraft. Now you have to remember that I’m sort of summarizing these ideas for if I mentioned every single little notion they had on witchcraft I’d have to right my own book. So I strongly urge you to go out and read Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande.

Now that you have more of an idea on how the Azande felt about witches and that they blamed witches for any problems that they had in their society we can next talk about how the society dealt with these witches. I will outline that in part three which will be the last part of the Azande witchcraft study as well as the last post in my witchcraft series. Once again I leave you with a line to help you anticipate what you will learn in the next section: “To the Azande the question of guilt does not present itself as it would to us.”


E.E. Evans-Pritchard. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford University Press, 1976.


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